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No, I am saying the two science fiction conventions I
went to were bad (that would be the Eurocon in
Kiev from last year). I just missed out most of Shamrokon
in Ireland because I contracted a plague in Loncon3
(the Worldcon) and spent much of the Irish convention
in the hotel room trying to breathe. I did attend a panel
on using computer games to tell stories and thanks to
modern medicine I think it went pretty well. But flying
back to Finland with head full of phlegm and a fever of 39
degrees is not recommended.
Quite a few cool things happened in the space of the last
10 days, though. First of all, Hannu Rajaniemi of
Quantum Thief fame got his physical copy of Stalker
RPG and really liked it. He also wrote a very
detailed, almost publishing-editor level review of my
novel and while he liked that as well, he gave me quite a
few pointers I hope my actual publishing editor would have
thought of. I don't agree with all the suggested changes
but then again Hannu is a superstar of contemporary
science fiction and I am an overweight neckbeard who
dreams of being a pulp fiction author; i.e. writing what
young poorly educated men used to buy from shady kiosks
before porn magazines were allowed.But he was entertained
nevertheless and I have no higher goals than that. I hope
you will be too, when The Hollow Pilgrim finally
By the way, I found Quantum Thief a little
difficult to get into and Fractal Prince almost
impenetrable, albeit extremely well written. But the
conclusion of Hannu's trilogy, The Causal Angel,
is a masterpiece. If that's him hitting his stride as a
big-time author, he just shot up to the top of my list. I
also really enjoyed the short story he read to the public
in Finncon. Yes, I am a fanboy. But I was that
already before I learned that he was a fan of my
roleplaying games and liked my funny little Stalker novel.
As for the conventions themselves, I have a few gripes. Worldcon
was obviously massive but it suffers from the same problem
as Shamrokon does: over-dependence on panels.
Virtually every piece of programme in Shamrokon was
a panel. That's 3-5 people having a short chat and then
responding to questions from the audience. There were
virtually no presentations, readings or kaffee klatches
and none of the panels I saw used any visual aids. I have
to say that I much prefer the Finncon/Ropecon/Eurocon
2012 (Croatia) focus on presentations and solo
pieces. You can cover your stuff in depth, you can handle
more questions since not everybody has to answer, visual
aids fit right in and so on. You can still have panels
mixed in, though and all in all, this year's Finncon
offered a wealth and variety of programming that these two
frontline conventions of the genre could only dream of.
My other gripe is about opportunities for gaming. Worldcon
actually had a games tent for running roleplaying games
and John Dodd of UK Games Expo actually convinced me to
run a session of Stalker RPG there. I wasn't
prepared but got my act together and had a great time.
Now, Shamrokon had nothing like that. Even in the
programme topics, games barely existed and the RPG content
was limited to one panel about LARPs. No game room, no
system in place to run games, no real presence of the
roleplayer sub-culture, which I thought was alive and well
But in short, Worldcon is a massive affair and
there I can see why Helsinki 2017 plans to hold it in
Messukeskus. Eurocons are smaller, much like Finncons
but with more English programme tracks and
high-ranking guests of honor. I've mostly enjoyed the but
last year the Kiev Eurocon was definitely the low
point of my otherwise very enjoyable trip. Next year, it
is held in St. Petersburg and yeah... there are issues
with attending that one at the moment. None of them are
the organizers' fault but still... The 2016 Eurocon will
be held in Barcelona and I am definitely attending that
one. As for Worldcons, they will go back to the US
for a couple of years. The 2015 Worldcon is held
in Spokane, which is backwater even by Washington state
standards. And of all the congregations of idiots in the
world, the 2016 vote had to land it on Kansas City. I hope
Helsinki wins the vote for 2017 next year but it is up
against stiff competition from Washington DC.
I am back in Finland now. I have five days to get well
and then I am off to Istanbul, officially for the Internet
Governance Forum but mostly for being tourist and
chasing those wonderful "Personal Conan Moments". I had
one standing before the Golden Gates of Kiev. Now
I hope some part of Old Constantinople can give me
the same rush. And yes, I've been writing stuff for Miekkamies
while out of the country. I briefly toyed with an
alternate and more pseudo-historical setting but
eventually dropped it in the favor Arleon. I am
already pissed off at Magus saying back in 1994 that Miekkamies
reminded him of Warhammer. I am not going to give
him another excuse for doing that, regardless of the
potential of a pseudo-historical Europe. I have also been
experimenting with alternate rule systems and now think
there is perhaps a compromise between the Hipster system
described in my previous blog entry and something normal
people would actually play...
Jukka "NiTessine" Särkijärvi put it best:
You can take the man out of the Zone.
Stalker RPG is by far the best roleplaying game I
have written. And personally, I consider it to be the best
RPG anybody has ever written. Yes, any perceived reality
is ultimately subjective and while not many would agree
with me on that assessment, every review of Stalker RPG I
have heard of agrees it is a fucking brilliant, if perhaps
a slightly quirky, game. As I write the alpha rules system
for Miekkamies, it is becoming increasingly clear
that I can't walk away from Stalker RPG anymore.
Probably never will. For example, the character creation
is pure genius and I am constantly trying to emulate it in
other settings and genres because it is just so freaking
awesome. The FLOW rules work perfectly 80% of the time.
Running action scenes sometimes make me wish I had
introduced some dice into the system. Both players and
myself make great initial strategies and describe their
initial moves well but if the scenes draw out over several
combat rounds, you need to be Shakespeare, or use more
time than is practical in a tabletop RPG to come up with
new plans and matching descriptions all the time.
On the other hand, that 20% also kind of wipes the floor
with any system I've read, used or even heard about. When
I realized that I don't actually need detailed weapon
stats for Stalker RPG, I was... flying, without
knowing if I was freefalling down into the abyss or
floating aloft on wings on inspiration. Instead, how good
is your weapon for the circumstances? Better than the
enemy's? Subject to some special hindrances? You could
kill with any weapon but having the right tool for the job
just made it easier and bigger certainly wasn't better.
So, no weapon stats. No initiative bonuses. No damage
values (which are a legacy system inherited from miniature
game balancing). No min-maxing with a thousand different
9mm pistols and arguments over whether Beretta or SIG is
superior. And once you were out of Fitness, the damage
system imposed the effects of a solid hit from that kind
of weapon. A fist punches you out. A .50 Barret punches
right through you and you better hope there is
hospital-level treatment or medical xenotechnology around.
It had nothing to do with a simulation of a real firefight
but it worked beautifully.
Miekkamies is not a FLOW game and uses a
derivative of the Praedor rules. However, I am
chasing the same high I got from Stalker RPG
combat at its best. Combat is reduced to conflict rolls
and if you have the best weapon for your circumstances and
goals, you have an edge of one die. If you also manage to
lure the enemy into terrain unfit for his weapon, the
enemy gets a disadvantage of one die.
Imagine this: Two combatants charge each other in a thick
crowd. One is armed with a dagger. The other is wielding a
rapier. At first, the panicking bystanders block the long
blade's arc of movement and even if he is not worried by
collateral damage, the swordsman can't afford to get his
blade stuck between the butt cheeks of some unfortunate
onlooker. During this initial round the knifeman makes a
normal combat roll (or perhaps even at -1D, if he can
initiate his charge from within an arm's length since
dagger is a deadly weapon in cramped spaces and surprise
attacks). The swordsman still intends to run the knifeman
through but with +1D to his combat roll he is lucky if he
can keep the dagger off his skin. They score equal
successes, so for the 10 seconds or so they circle, dodge,
weave, exchange blows and so on, while spectators scramble
to get out of the way.
The next round, the crowds have cleared. At three times
the length of the dagger, the rapier now has the edge, or
rather, the dagger is at a disadvantage. The swordsman can
now attack normally but if the knifeman's intentions in
this round still involve the dagger, he will have +1D
penalty to his combat roll. He might be better off
figuring out something that would neutralize the sword
instead. Retreat into a hastily abandoned market stall
while taunting the swordsman to follow him, then pounce on
him? It's a long description but then, 10 seconds of
combat is a long time and antagonists in Baroque Fantasy
are sensitive to witty insults.
I am no longer interested in seeing mathematical
prediction models of differently armed combatants playing
out, ála Praedor. I am interested in players being
incentivized to come up with creative tactics and colorful
solutions, as well as to recognize and respond to traps
set before them by the enemy. If this means abstracting
the combat system to simple conflict rolls and glossing
over the differences between various types of thin-bladed
dueling swords found in Arleon, so be it!
But... does this mean losing the location-based damage
system with deep wounds? Sadly, yes. Location-based damage
tracking is a major contributor in making Praedor
combat as deadly as it is. For Pulp Fantasy, it is
genre-realistic. For Baroque Fantasy, it is anything but.
You are supposed to enjoy combat, often both as a player
and a character (just read Three Musketeers; by
modern standards the early 17th century Paris is a hub for
psychopaths). As a result, combat damage needs a
genre-friendly build-up to a serious wound that
effectively ends the combat for the recipient. Or leaves
him at such an enormous disadvantage that it is actually
honorable to surrender. Now, one of the lessons of Praedor
was that players love to roll damage dice. Actually, I've
never seen dice-based superstitions emerge and become
entrenched that fast before.
So, how to combine these things into a dice pool complete
with explosive dice? I'll tell you what I am going to try
with my test players. This is actually a variation of a
theme I read about from an RPG advert in the early
nineties. I forget which game it was, which is a pity
because I remember the advert being damn intriguing.
Anyway, winning the combat roll with the intent to do
bodily harm inflicts the difference in Degrees as Wounds.
These wounds represent anything from actual wounds to a
loss of self-confidence and bouts of fear and fatigue.
They are also casually healed. While a single attack can
only inflict 1-3 Wounds, watch out! Here comes the Damage
Roll 1D for every Wound taken so far (the ones inflicted
now included), with explosive dice (re-roll any dice that
score "6", for a potentially infinite result). Subtract
-1D or -2D if there is armor or otherwise believable
protection against the latest damange (a soaked blanket
against a fire, padding for falls, thick furs against cold
etc.). At least on paper, this gives armor the diminished
effect I was looking for. It is useful enough for soldiers
to want to wear it (e.g. Gustavus Adolphus wore a
moose-leather cuirass into the Battle of Lützen, even if
he was often portrayed dressed in metal armor). If the
total is less than your Body, no problem! Flesh wounds,
superficial cuts, bashes with the hilt of the sword, etc.
But if the total exceeds Body, the result is a Deep Wound,
a Critical Wound, a Lethal Wound or a Mortal Blow. Most
NPCs will try to escape battle or surrender after taking a
Deep Wound. Should the character survive a Critical Wound
or worse, he may receive permanent injuries like missing
limbs, eyes and so on.
It takes, on average, three Wounds to deliver a Deep
Wound to an ordinary person, and six or seven to deliver a
Mortal Blow. Since characters have superior stats, will
probably find a way to cheat with the armor and have some
control over their fate via the Swashbuckling Die (which
is a topic for another day), they are likely to be even
tougher. And in any case a Deep Wound is not necessarily
Game Over if you're good enough. Thus Miekkamies combat
will be far less deadlier than Praedor combat.
Hopefully, it will also be more colorful, flamboyant and
creative. A voice in in my head laments that these choices
and abstractions will be unpopular among the roleplaying
masses, and that saleswise I should embrace Praedor-style
attention to detail with well-defined rules. But those
people have Praedor already and I hope that by
next Ropecon they will also have some supplemental
material to mull over. With or without the comic album.
But I digress. Last Ropecon, and in particular when
watching Myrrys deliver its thoroughly botched
company launch talk, I felt that my mass market days were
done. If it's well-organized, an outfit of that size could
support 2-3 franchises with rulebooks, regular
supplemental material, updates, event support
(scenario-writing competitions), licensed fiction and the
works. I can't do that. I am just too unreliable, too much
of an artist who is at the mercy of his whims and
inspirations and detests being restricted to doing things
somebody else has to like (which is what 99% of my day job
is all about and there is nothing wrong with that but you
can probably see the reason behind my roleplaying game
design preferences...). This is also the reason why I
prefer to work alone and not to use crowd funding. I am
old pretentious roleplaying hipster, like 4chan once
argued I was. I can't draw, though. So... if any artists
out there would like to take a crack at Miekkamies,
drop me a line. This time there are no restrictions on the
use of colors :)
The heatwave has continued for more than month and it's
actually therapeutic to go back into the snowbanks of
Skyrim. Yes, I've lapsed and put in more than 50 hours
onto my latest character, Nejah. An Imperial hunter,
ranger and assassin on some magical capability, she goes
down the easiest route regarding character advancement.
What is different this time is that I am playing with full
survival mods. Food, sleep, drink, cold, the works. I also
had enemy mods but there were... problems. I have also
managed to do away with the need to learn Smithing, which
as a side effect resolved the issue of having too much
gold, at least for now.
So, here she is. Nejah, dressed light, stealthy and warm,
carrying a fur backpack and wearing a fur cloak to hold
off the cold. While Skyrim doesn't have a needs system by
default, it has a surprisingly sophisticated food crafting
system, complete with multiple ingredients, incentives for
hunting and complex recipes. That, and the fact that the
areas you move about in early in the game have kitchens,
suggests to me that the game originally had included
hunger and thirst, much like the Hardcore Mode in Fallout:
New Vegas does. Apparently it was dropped at some point
since areas designed later in the process no longer have
cooking pots or functional kitchens. This is nothing
modders couldn't fix but much like Nevada Wasteland, the
land of Skyrim is too densely populated for starvation to
really become an issue. And fixing that, unfortunately,
remains beyond the skill of modders.
I am going easy on the mods this time and getting
everything from Steam Workshop if I can. Skyrim can be
unstable even on a good day, so I've skipped heavy
graphics and content mods, and sticking instead to small
things I know it can handle and hope that will breathe new
life to the default adventure. The small mods kind of
piled up but the actual changes are minute. At the core of
the new gameplay experience is the survival mod
Frostfall - I reduced the rate of hypothermia since I am not playing a Nord. And without heavy Frost Resistance the default freezing rate is ridiculous.
iNeed - this is a simple hunger, thirst and sleep
mod. I have increased the benefits from food and drink a
little but kept the attrition rate as it is. You roughly
need three meals and drinks per day (waterskins galore)
and it is enough to make you do a spot of hunting on
occasion to get your hands on some venison. Besides, hot
stews help against the cold.
Cloaks of Skyrim - supplements Frostfall
Calleb96's Hunting Improvement Mod - since
I am going after all that venison, I might as well try the
hunting mods :)
Dovahkin Relaxes Too - for all your immersive idle
time animation needs.
More Cooking Pots - for obvious reasons.
Wet and Cold - better handling of rain and cold
visuals on the character
Survival isn't everything. I was annoyed at the need for
my slender assassin to become a burly blacksmith just to
make sensible use of her equipment. I went looking for
alternatives and found this:
Loot and Degradation - this mod enables the NPC
blacksmiths to improve your goods, in return for a hefty
sum of gold. Different blacksmiths have different and
improving skill levels with some specialties. Eorlund in
Whiterun is obviously the best smith out there but they
all improve through work and time. The best of all is that
they can improve weapons and armors from outside the
regular crafting system, so I am now wearing a legendary
wolf's head helmet of a Stormcloak commander. Technically,
the mod also adds weapon and armor degradation through use
but in practice this has been too slow and rare to become
an issue. Tempering of weapons and armors costs and later
in the game it will cost a lot. Thousands of gold. But it
has relieved me from the need to spend perk points on
Smithing and the game always needed a deep and regular
gold sink. :)
The rest of the mods are small visual and content
The Daedric Menace - adventure
I originally had also Enemy AI Overhaul - Revenge of
the Enemies, which makes enemies stronger, fixes
some of the AI issues and makes bosses feel like, well,
bosses. I took it out when the Draugr boss in Bleakfalls
Barrow (like, the second dungeon in the whole game)
one-shotted my level 2 character halfway across the whole
dungeon with some kind of damage-inflicting shout.
Challenge is fine but hitting a stone wall right at the
start of the game is not. Now that I am at level 38 and
most enemies feel too weak, I am planning to put it back.
Let's see what happens.
But overall, thanks to survival and loot degradation,
Skyrim has reinvented itself again for me. It's not
perfect, but you can see it from here.
Reporter: Welcome to our health-themed broadcast
from the tropical paradise that is Myyrmäki. Today, we are
going to be interviewing the health and fitness guru Ville
"Burger" Vuorela, who has just lost ten kilos in three
weeks. In this fitness- and body image -obsessed world
this is a major feat. So how did you do it, Mr. Vuorela?
Ville Vuorela: In a nutshell, The Atkins Diet, or
"Very Low Carbohydrate Diet". But let's put things into
perspective. I am a huge guy, so any change in eating
habits was going to have an effect and the first 3-4 kilos
were fluids anyway. It'd come right back if I went on a
sugar binge, so the real loss rate has been about two
kilos per week.
Reporter: That is still remarkable. But with such
abundance of diets available and Atkins not being
fashionable anymore, why did you go for that one?
Ville Vuorela: Two things; I've done it before so
I know it works and it is quick enough to keep me
Reporter: You've done it before? How did that go?
Ville Vuorela: I did it in 2003/2004 for eight
months and also went hardcore on gym excercise and
occasional fasting days. It worked alright, I lost 40
kilos in 8 months and got under 100 for the first time
since the Army. It also took me 8 years to gain them back,
so while some might call that yo-yo dieting, I call it an
acceptable exchange ratio.
Reporter: Can we expect to see you lose 40 kilos
this time around?
Ville Vuorela: I am not sure. Last time hunger and
possibly hormonal changes during fasting altered my
personality, making me swing wildly between aggression and
depression. This time around I am taking it much easier,
so the rate of loss will eventually be much slower but it
will be mentally easier for both myself and my spouse. She
prefers me as my grumpy old self. The 100 kilo-limit
remains a magical finish line and an easy reference point.
My ideal weight would be something like 70-80 but with
this much baggage even getting below 100 is what dreams
are made of.
Reporter: Without carbs, I suppose you will be
eating mostly meat then? Getting your energy from fats and
Ville Vuorela: I am a meat-eater but never
underestimate the need for veggies. When Atkins was first
publicized in Finland, the idiot press went crazy about it
being a barbecue diet for pure carnivores or something.
No, eating isn't just about energy. You need veggies for
vitamins and fiber and on Atkins you have to pay close
attention to get enough of them. If you don't, you'll get
constipated first and sick afterwards. Unless you go full
Eskimo with black cold-fermented meat but I am not
subjecting my palate or my stomach to that.
Reporter: Well, you are well known for having
freezers stuffed with organic meats but what veggies can
you eat then? The carb limits are quite strict, are they
Ville Vuorela: I try to keep my daily carb intake under 20 grams but I won't fuss about it as long as it stays under 50. With that kind of limit you can eat most of the green veggies out there and some of the roots. I am also eating tomatoes and snack-carrots are my candy. I have also made side dishes out of certain types of salads, eggs in various forms and baked eggplant. I really like baked eggplant. It is the closest thing to potato mash but with one fifth of the carbs. My other favorites are broccoli and then those frozen Wok vegetable mixes you can buy from stores and cook with oil. Potatoes aren't that dangerous either, actually. With just 16 grams of carbs per 100 grams, you can enjoy a potato dish or two as long as you don't do it every day. And we are talking about whole potatoes here: chips are off the list.
Reporter: But you are also a well-known
sweet-tooth. How do you keep yourself from becoming
Ville Vuorela: Every now and then I reward myself
with a dessert I make from whipped cream, artificial
sweeteners and powdered coffee. I make a small batch of
sweet whipped cream, sprinkle the coffee granules on top
of it and leave it in the fridge for a while. The coffee
melts into a bitter dark layer on top of the cream and it
is yummy. You can get the same effect with dark cocoa but
coffee has more bite to it. At other times, if I am hit by
cravings, snack carrots are usually my salvation.
Reporter: Considering how much you used to eat
out before this diet it seems like quite a radical change.
No doughnuts? No ice cream? No Danish?
Ville Vuorela: There is a trick to it and it seems
to work on a comfort eater like myself. Eat big! This talk
of small meals many times a day is hogwash. Protein- and
fat-based foods keep you full for a long time and without
the sugar spike from carbs you don't even get that
sensation of sleepiness afterwards. I try to eat a hearty
meal before I set out to go or do something. The sensation
of fulness keeps craving away and I won't be tempted to
impulse buy the wrong things. With these foods, I only
need one or two meals a day anyway. Or like, one meal and
a few branches of Chinese cabbage on a good day.
Reporter: So, Atkins is a sort of a miracle diet,
after all? Why hasn't the entire developed world been put
Ville Vuorela: There is nothing magical about it.
The rules for weight loss are the same for everybody: Eat
less calories than you consume. Anything any diet can do
is to facilitate that. In my case, a 150-kilo lard ball
needs over 3000 kcal a day just to keep breathing. Now,
raw beef averages 153 kcal per 100 grams, or 1530 kcal per
kilo. Doing the math, I would need two kilos of beef a
day! Since I have cut off the carbs, the remaining veggies
have hardly any energy at all (eggplant 22 kcal/100g,
carrot 33 kcal/100g) and I'd have to be a Siberian
tiger to gnaw through even a kilo of meat a day. Still,
the required energy has to come from somewhere and once my
liver ran out of sugar, the only option was to burn fat.
That's called ketosis and it is the end goal of any
Reporter: You already said it feels easier this
time around. Are there any side effects at all?
Ville Vuorela: Well, yes. Waking up is a long and
drawn-out process involving multiple stages and degrees of
self-awareness. Sometimes your body tries to shut down and
you get cold feet or other extremities. Some exercise,
like walking, is paramount to keeping your metabolism
active. And when you finally do get hungry, you are
ravenous and it can alter your mood pretty drastically.
Finally, the absence of sugar sensitizes you to sweet
flavors, so things may start tasting different than
before. I have also been told that in ketosis you should
occasionally be able to taste the sweetness of ketones in
your mouth but I have never managed to do that.
Reporter: Well, congratulations on what you have
achieved already. I can see that you had to tighten your
Ville Vuorela: Just by one notch but thank you. I
managed to hold on to my diet through Ropecon and
Assembly, which is great and this current weight loss was
enough to fix some of the problems I had with my legs. But
I am also about to head into the British Isles for two
weeks soon and to Turkey soon after that. There might be
some damage control ahead once I get back.
Reporter: And this concludes our interview with
Ville Vuorela, the renowned expert on healthy foods and
healthy living! Good night and eat well!
In other news, Miekkamies combat system is taking shape. I have received suggestions on rule changes and tweaks based on Praedor but really, the differences go way, way deeper than that. Miekkamies combat is far less lethal, does away with the action/hand parity and includes both abstractions and gimmicks to produce genre-believable results. And anyone who thinks any of this has anything to do with real fencing maneuvers can go stick his head in a cement mixer. There are games out there already trying to recreate real combat. This is a game trying to recreate the freedom, speed and lunacy of cinematic swashbuckling with its stupidly creative combat scenes. Yes, I am trying to do a combat system where the infamous Wheel Fight of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 is not only possible, but inevitable.
is underway and this time it is in Messukeskus (Helsinki
Exhibition Center) and my god, that is a soul-crushing
place. The setup is much better than it was in Assembly
Winter. Also, the Esport arrangements kick serious ass but
I cringe when thinking that I am technically supporting
hosting Worldcon 2017 in this place. But apart from
location, Assembly is doing well. The seminar program is
perhaps a bit lackluster this year but the Esport emphasis
balances that out. And the Virtual Reality stuff presented
today wasn't half-bad. Lots of walking, though. The floors
are even so my knees aren't busted but it takes forever to
get from the Seminar stands to the Starcraft 2 tournament
stands. And it is a pity I have absolutely no need for
hardware. That Corsair gaming keyboard in Jimms looks
pretty damn cool.
Quietly, on the background, I've been working on the
rules system and character creation of Miekkamies.
I managed to crack some of the nuts I was facing,
especially on the latter part, but we are not out of the
woods yet. Still, I can already tell it uses a derivation
of the Praedor system while taking lessons from Stalker
and Rovers. The characters are the sons and
daughters of impoverished and ostracized Imperial
nobility, made obsolete by the collapse of the Delorian
Empire and also intently distrusted by the new royal
families. They are still nobles or heirs to nobles,
though, so they retain privileges like the right to bear
arms in public (hence "Miekkamies), freedom of travel
within the Imperial borders and a measure of authority
within the law. Nevertheless, the collapse of the Empire
has left them with little more than their names and
exalted family histories. They must either make their own
fortune in the new era, or they will vanish along with the
Empire that made them. Think of d'Artagnan leaving for
Paris. You'll get the picture.
The player determines six attribute values and if he
chooses his character to be a witch, he can sacrifice
points from those attributes to a seventh attribute called
Witchcraft. Arcane knowledge and power corrupts both body
and soul, so these lost points reflect physical and mental
changes. They also help to explain why old witches in
fairy tales are such horrible hags; their players were
minmaxers and sacrificed their Charisma. Next, choosing
your people yields a small attribute bonus and determines
what skills you already know at their starting value.
Although most Imperial subjects were Delorians, the empire
was multicultural and included significant minorities of
Tynes, Relgs, Lavonians and even Sayarids and Zhangs who
had come to Arleon from across the seas. Of these, only
Tynes have their own Successor Kingdom. All other
Successor Kingdoms are in Delorian hands. Many of the
nobles from these minorities were Imperial nobility,
meaning that they swore fealty to the Emperor rather than
the dukes and archdukes from which the Successor Kingdoms
sprung up. Hence the political conflict.
In addition to the four background skills, you get to
choose six more skills determined by the life, actions and
fate of your character. All these skills are learned at
their starting value and you can then distribute 30 more
points between them, although no skill may be higher than
15 for new characters. There are fewer skills in Miekkamies
than there were in Praedor. Many things are are
now resolved rolling against the attribute value,
especially on tasks related to Agility or Charisma. Skills
are restricted to specialist knowledge where training and
experience has larger impact. Drawing on Rovers,
starting with a sufficiently high skill value require you
to choose a Perk and a Flaw, preferably reflecting the
circumstances in which that skill was learned, but there
are also some attributed to birth or blind luck.
Finally, you get to create your noble bloodline. Besides
a name and a coat of arms, you get to roll the three
things the family is famous for, worth pools of 3, 2 and 1
bonus dice, respectively. You can spend these dice in
topical task rolls, rolling more dice and then choosing
the correct number of best-scoring dice as your result.
The used bloodline dice are returned after each session
and more dice can be gained if you are successful in
restoring parts of your family's prestige and glory. Even
entirely new achievements can be added to the bloodline,
if your character becomes the widely renowned hero legends
and chronicles will refer to. The exact system is still up
in the air but I want bloodline dice pools to be
After all the characters are created, we create the
company, the fellowship, AKA "the party". Stealing ideas
out of One Ring, it'll have fate dice of its own,
increasing with every adventure. Thus, joining a famous
and well-established party of adventurers gives even a new
blood an access to the fabled luck of heroes. The system
is still a little fuzzy but I am trying to give adventurer
groups identity, reputation and self-recognition,
including enemies and weaknesses on the group level. It
may end up being a list of allies, enemies and shared
resources with a dice pool to match but still, I should
have had something like that in Praedor already.
The next real challenge is the combat system, because the
genre realism of Baroque Fantasy is different from Pulp
Fantasy. The very flavor of combat is different, the
weapons are different, the firearms are reasonably
reliable and armor is rarely worn outside dedicated
military expeditions. Swashbuckling, from creative insults
to boosting attacks with acrobatic moves is to be
encouraged. Now, you are all well aware what happens in Praedor
if you frequently engage in battle without armor or a
shield. In Miekkamies, this simply won't fly and
the whole system unravels with that realization. Even if
many of the basic mechanics of Praedor are
applicable in Miekkamies, the combat is not.
At the time of writing the Ropecon is winding down
towards the closing ceremonies. I am long gone, because I
hate that part of any convention. If I enjoy myself,
watching the event lie down and die takes part of me with
it. So we took off for Grilli Toro instead. Yum
Yum. Programme scheduling issues aside (you fucking
muppets!) this was an excellent Ropecon for me, with just
the right blend of good, bad and comedic.
Friday kicked off very well indeed. The Gamemaster
School was bloody excellent! If they cover topics I
have special interest in in the future, I'll be there like
mold on a carpet. It was great to draw comparisons with Verivartio,
my Praedor-campaign where the group has a very definite
(and fortunately fully capable) leader. Judging by the
slides, the leader has been doing most things right and we
even got the seating arranged properly, even if that was
largely by a mix of tradition and chance. Next, the Screwy
Rulers of History was so packed I skipped it.
It was later repeated in the Auditorium but unfortunately
I had something else on top of that.
Then we get to the Bad and Comedic. Myrrys is a
new Finnish RPG developer and publisher born out of
Ironspine and Myrrysmiehet. Yes, they merged and held the
worst company reveal in the history of games business. The
less is said about it the better, so I'll summarize it
like this: never before have five people grouped together
looked so much smaller than any one of them standing
alone. Guys, get it together, choose your speakers
according to talent and do your fucking homework on what
you are going to present. And if you don't have the time
and opportunity to do it properly, don't.
Finally, Mike's "what's new with Myrskyn Sankarit"
presentation also featured the adventure module I wrote
for him. I've never really used adventure modules myself
and considered them a waste of money and time. But Hornankattila
looked so good it made me think about doing something
similar for Praedor, especially now that the world
supplement is being delayed. What do you think? Would you
have use for long adventures for Praedor,
sprinkled with supplemental rules? Would anyone buy such a
thin booklet it if read "Praedor" on the cover?
Does anyone even play Praedor anymore? Let me know
what you think. Space Warfare by Antti Eronen was
great stuff, some of which I knew and some of which I
didn't. As it should be. I really ought to catch up on my
reading and add his
latest onto the list.
Gamemaster School, second course. 90 minutes might
be a tad too long but there were lots of good stuff. And I
closed the Saturday by meeting my colleagues in Keltsu,
where I was shown a picture of the elusive Finnish RPG
authoring guru "Ville Pohjola" (an inside joke from the
Myrrys meeting that is in danger of becoming a meme).
Then, Sope. I like the guy, he sort of knows his
stuff as an RPG author but Christ on the Bicycle about
those presentations! I am not going to comment on content
because the real problem is in presentation skills. And
now we are going to fix that once and for all!
I wasn't all that sure if getting up early to make it
into the Games for Kids panel on Sunday morning
was going to be worth it but hell yeah! Thank you Mike,
Miska and Luke for an absolutely kick-ass panel and talks
on designing, marketing and whatever of roleplaying games
for children. And I am very glad to see Astraterra make
new fans. I usually rate panels below presentations but
this was really, really good.
All in all, this was one of the best Ropecons I've
attended. Despite their best efforts, even the Programme
Team couldn't spoil it. Next year, Dipoli is getting
renovated so the timing and venue of Ropecon 2015 are up
in the air. It is possible that this was the last
Dipoli-Con and I fear that the location will be sorely
missed next year.
My Extra Special Thanks go to Eero Tuovinen for
gifting me with Korpimuseo Wildwood Tales, a book
on the wonders and magic of Northern Kainuu, which was
very topical because I just got back from there. Despite
nearly dying out in the wilderness, I did witness the
awesome beauty of those wilds. One day, if my diet
succeeds, I'll go there again and maybe this time I can
focus on enjoying my surroundings rather than just keeping
my heart beating. It is a thick book and a great gift. I
must think of something in return.
Speaking of howling wilderness, I finally bought One
Ring RPG. So far, I like what I see and the emphasis
on travel and wilderness exploration is something I've
never focused on before. It is a gorgeous-looking game and
once Verivartio campaign is in the bag (I like
joking about it but it will happen eventually), I might
give this one a spin or steal the heck out of it for some
Great Southern Woods -themed Praedor supplement. My next
Praedor novel is set in the north but it is becoming clear
to me that I love the south more as a region.
Let's see... *goes to the scales* ...the official reading
for this week is 147.3 kilos. It's a lot, of course.
Morbidly obese. But last week I weighed in at 149.7, so
I've shed 2.4 kilos in a week without any great pains or
difficulty. And before last week, I weighed in too much
for the scales to measure. Don't let anyone ever tell you
that Atkins/Low-Carb Diet doesn't work. I even managed to
hold on to it despite the temptations of Ropecon food
stalls and Keltsu! Now, if I can only survive Assembly...
I thought I had no new releases coming out on this Ropecon but Mike kindly reminded me that I do! Just because it is not published by Burger Games doesn't mean I haven't come up with new RPG material! Hornankattila is an adventure I wrote for Myrskyn Sankarit as a scenario for my introductory game sessions last year. Mike liked it so much he asked me to edit the content into the MS adventure module format (it is about a certain kind of parlance and way to lead the players on) and it will be published in Ropecon, along with the Age of Tempest -translation. I am blown away by the cover art. This is almost too gorgeous:
How cool is that? Despite having some misgivings about
the game system, I love the Smoky Woods (is that how
Sauhumetsä is called in Age of Tempest?) and yes,
if I had to run a fantasy adventure for small children, it
would happen here, whatever the rules. Since I also adore
the Astraterra setting and my own roleplaying
games are decidedly setting-centered, lets just agree that
we are all fucking great at setting design. This is why my
Miekkamies rewrite is stalling: there are
unresolved issues with the setting. For me, setting is the
game and rules are just a tool kit. If the rules are
broken, it is a solvable problem. If the setting is
broken, the game is dead.
For a moment, it seemed like I might have scheduling
issues with Ropecon but those appear to be resolved for
now. So, let's take a look at the programme. Remember,
this year I am just a regular visitor, paying my way in
just like everybody else. I really don't want to stand in
that line though, so I have to think at what time I will
show up on Friday. But, my picks of the Ropecon programme
Well, looks like I may well delay my arrival because I am
not really interested in the guests of honor and nothing
in the early Friday programming tickles me. But then...
20-21 The Gamemaster School
- player power and application
21-22 The Screwball Rules of
22-23 What's Next for Myrrysmiehet &
11-13 Age of Tempest: Roleplaying For Kids and
13.30-15 Astraterra - Roleplaying Game For the Whole
14-16 Age of Tempest: The Global Conquest Begins
Christ on a bicycle, Programme Team! The Ropecon mission
statement is simple enough: helping to promote this hobby.
You have put three events that have pretty much the same
target audience (press included) into more or less the
same time slot. This is a major fuck up. If I was one of
the parties launching a game here, I would consider this
an unforgivable fuck-up and you would have earned my
undying enmity and hatred. For now, I am just bloody
annoyed. It will pass. But by the Beard of Artante, this
is worse than you forgetting the event I was supposed to
partake in (the reason I am now a paying customer). That
event can be done next year but these events
16-18 RPG Design In Practise
19-20 Space Warfare
20.30-22.30 The Gamemaster School: Real and Tangible
10-12 Games for Kids
12-14 Lords of the Robin Hood RPG
And that's about it. I don't want to be around when
Ropecon closes. It always feels like a part of me dies in
the process. So I'm off, probably to Grilli Toro
for some steak and then home to prepare for... Assembly!
I am glad I didn't have to boycott them, although we are
still waiting for the apology for their role in the
News have been incredibly depressing lately and while
Israel's invasion of Gaza still wins by all counts, the
downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over East Ukraine
still scores highly in fucked-uppedness, with bonuses for
the probable guilty party being a bunch of blind-drunk
morons wielding rocket-powered killer robots. Plus this.
Guys, if you don't want the world to be russophobic, don't
make threats involving World War Three! Now, I have been
asked why I only look to western sources for information
since the western powers (i.e. democracies and shit) are
known to have manipulated the media from time to time. The
short answer is that because I am old enough to remember
the whole of the 80s. The Russian state-controlled media
and their proxies have been spouting nothing but
over-the-top bullshit and lies for as long as I can
remember, which is over 35 years by now. It is far too
late to ask me to believe them on anything and frankly, I
find the whole notion insulting.
If the pro-Kremlin media announced today that the Sun
will rise tomorrow morning, I would check the western
sources on whether Earth was still rotating and if
something had happened in Russia to impede that. The
standards of journalism in the West (you know, democracies
and shit) might not be that high right now but at least we
have them. That is, both the standards, and the whole
fucking concept of journalism. As a result, while
large-scale media manipulation is possible, at least it
takes some effort and since free press and political
opposition is allowed, you can usually get a fairly good
picture by cross-referencing different sources. In Russia,
both journalism and political opposition have been banned
and the draconian control measures even extend to private
But really, after all the other shit that has gone down
there over the past 12 months, like the suppression of
civil liberties and violations basic human rights
(anti-protest statutes or the anti-gay legislation,
anyone?), is lying through your teeth about an accidental
shooting perpetrated by drunken trigger-happy idiots
really that surprising? It's just the Russian Bear
shitting in the woods. And on you, if you happen to be
It is all very depressing. Great things have
come out of Russia and not just in the distant past.
Badass films (I really wonder if the industry that gave us
Antikiller can survive the new culture morality
laws), excellent video games (Metro!!! but ditto
for the laws), stunning literature, beautiful music and
great cuisine. They have gorgeous palaces, beautiful
churches and stupendous natural wonders. When Eurocon 2015
in St. Petersburg was first announced, I was really eager
to go. And why not? It's only a four-hour train ride from
A very good friend of mine just had a son (together with
his girlfriend, obviously, but you know what I mean).
Almost at the exact same moment, a very good colleague of
mine sent me a PDF facsimile of his upcoming crowd-funded
roleplaying game for children, Astraterra.
It will be officially released at Ropecon, about
a week and a half from now. Being Burger has some
priviledges and stuff like this, getting sneak peaks of
future products is one of them. Designing roleplaying
games for children is almost of a fad right now and it is
completely understandable. The most prolific Finnish RPG
authors are having offspring of their own and being
hobbyists and thus in it for the love, they'd like to
introduce their offspring and by necessity their circle of
friends into our wonderful hobby. There has certainly been
a dearth of games deemed suitable for children, in both
theme and complexity.
Unfortunately that dearth has persisted. I was a vocal
supporter of the Myrskyn Sankarit crowdfunding
drive but at some point the author changed his approach
and message from a "roleplaying game for children" to a
"roleplaying game for newbies". I don't know whether this
really changed anything in the content but it did change
the marketing message and with that, the goal and
atmosphere of the whole project. Personally, I felt like
the crowd-funding drive had failed or been derailed.
Whatever its merits or flaws as game, the product
delivered at the end was intentionally different from what
had been promised.
This is why Burger Games only sells its goods after they've been finished.
So, why did I give such strong support to Astraterra?
Well, it is still aimed, designed and marketed as a
roleplaying game for children. It is also not an
OSR-inspired rehash of the red-box D&D and in fact
completely lacks any obvious nostalgia for the games of
the author's youth. I've never seen a game world like this
and that's saying something. Astraterra has been
extensively playtested with real, live children for over
two years and from what I've heard some of them have even
survived. Besides, the author has enough offspring to
invade East Ukraine and just as I poured my experiences as
a GM into Stalker RPG, he has poured his parenting
expertise into his well-blogged playtesting campaign and
it makes a very
convincing read. In short, I had faith in him.
So, here we go. What can this digital shadow of the
finished game tell me?
Well, it looks gorgeous and I can't poke holes into the
rules just by reading it, so on the first look the numbers
work. It is very evocatively written, reminding me of the
best of old-school Shadowr....
*Blue Screen of Death*
I want to play this thing.
I want to run this thing.
*Reboot into the Grumpy Old Man Mode*
*Error: Grumpy Mode not found*
Astraterra is a very well thought-out mixture of fantasy, science fiction, post-holocaust, epic space opera and steampunk. It is the first and only steampunk setting that I've found to be interesting in any way. While the default campaign deals with explorers, I can already see myself running an adventure that is a mixture of Tales of the Gold Monkey and Firefly, with a merry band of adventuring rogues taking their curiosity, bravery and greed into the far places beyond the reach of the ancient Waygates (a plot device introduced to eliminate the need for long transitions apparently detested by young players). But frankly, if I had a spaceship with golden sails capable of traveling between continent-sized floating islands, I'd sail the hell out of the damn thing!
Astraterra is a funny world and a cutesy setting. But if you look past the play of sunlight on the waves with an adult mind you suddenly realize that the waters below run deep, dark and cold. You know how the best kids' movies have multiple layers to them so that audiences of all ages can find something meaningful and entertaining? Miska has pulled that off in a roleplaying game setting and it is freaking awesome. I can't get enough of this dual nature of the setting and how the innocent, childish action-adventures stand on the shoulders of deep tragedy and doom. This thing really has the makings of a superb speculative fiction franchise.
Nothing in the world is certain and that goes double for the commercial success of roleplaying games. In all likelihood, Astraterra won't receive the attention and distribution it so richly deserves. Nevertheless, I consider this game a mighty feat and my crowdfunding support for it was money well spent. It might not be Stalker-level good, but nothing ever is.
I'm back. Not that you ever noticed me being one in the
first place but still... we went to my spouse's home turf
in Kainuu and while the Pessimist
Evening in Puolanka had a weather to match the
topic, the skies cleared the very next day and we became
crazy enough to go see ancient
rock paintings, epic waterfalls, museums about
Winter War and everything else you might expect to find
from the hinterlands of Falkre... sorry, Kainuu. Honestly,
the wilderness out there (Hossa
Wilderness Park) is fucking AAA. The only thing
missing were the necromancers. I am fairly sure they have
trolls. Of course, the number of mosquitoes and horseflies
was also epic but that's what the potion of
insect-repellent labelled OFF
However nice the place was, there are some things that can't be helped by scenery. I am very much out of shape and weigh about a metric ton (seriously, I am literally off-the-scale for our home scale). After a particularly heavy trudge through the epic woods, hills and crevasses I was in rough enough shape to have to call the Kajaani Central Hospital for some advice. I won't go into details but trust me, it wasn't pretty. It wasn't a postcard from Death, either, but a damn selfie! This summer, doctors have already forbade me from riding a bike, so I must do what I can. Today is day 0 of my second serious go at an Atkins Diet (low-carb). It actually worked the last time (30+ kilos lost in 8 months in 2003) and it took me years to regain it. Call it yoyo dieting if you wish, I consider it an acceptable exchange ratio so here we go again. This time my many physical ailments stop me from having such a heavy exercise regime but on the other hand I weigh even more, so even the walks are going to be more taxing.
It is not really about fitness anymore. It is survival.
By the way, when Ropecon rolls in I should be in a full
sugar crash mode. Maybe it's good I don't have any
presentations of my own this year because the
troubleshooters might end up having to dislodge my teeth
from someone's throat with a crowbar, at least if my
Spouse is to be believed. Personally, I don't believe I
could ever be that grumpy and ill-tempered.
Well, I lived, at least that time. I kinda want to go
into the wilds again. If I succeed in shedding some
significant weight by the next summer, I am going to do
it, including the nightmarish climb to the rock
paintings. And if I don't, well, pity the
pall-bearers. During my stay up north also concluded the
second proofreading round for The Hollow Pilgrim.
The ball is now firmly in the publishers' court and I'll
let you know if there are any changes. The Dance of
Snakes is taking shape as well, thank you very much
for asking. I still hope for a publisher to spring up but
if all else fails, it is Burger Games. You know, selling
my wares through Payhip
has the added benefit of being overseas trade and hence I
don't have to worry about VAT. Having 24% VAT on ebooks
vs. 10% on physical books is insane. Besides, the digital
be stopped and fucked over by the Customs Department.
On the way back we stopped at Jyväskylä for a couple of
nights to attend Finncon,
the leading speculative fiction fandom convention in
Finland with Elizabeth Bear, Jukka Halme, some surfer dude
and Hannu Rajaniemi as the guests of honour. I am a big
fan of Hannu
Rajaniemi, an author best known for the Quantum
Thief-series (QT, The Fractal Prince, The Causal
Angel) and after listening to his superb guest of
honor speech, I sat down with him in his kaffeeklatch (a
small and informal discussion circle of about 10 people
plus the author) and tried not to make a complete fool out
of myself. Then, towards the end of the period, he agreed
to sign the books we'd brought us and he asked for my
name. I told him. He looked up and said, and I quote: "I
am honored to meet you", shaking my hand.
I have the deepest respect for Hannu Rajaniemi but I
never expected him to respect me back. He is an old
roleplayer (cool and creative people usually are) and a
big fan of Praedor RPG. Why Oh why didn't I bring any
promotional copies of Stalker RPG with me this time? I'll
better bring some along to Worldcon, just in case.
Last year, after witnessing the debacle that was the
Eurocon in Kiev, I promised I'd never criticize the
managing of Finncon anymore. This year it was an easy
promise to keep. Things went off smoothly from start to
finish and while I wasn't a fan of the location, the
guests were excellent and did a great job in patching up
the otherwise "usual" programme palette. Well done,
Finncon organizers. The two pieces that really stood out
for me were "On Writing" and Rajaniemi's GoH speech (the
kaffeeklatch was great as well). I have also heard a lot
of good things about the Fact and Fiction panel and
getting to hear about the scifi-scene and prominent
authors in the Russian sphere was quite interesting and
topical for me.
So, that's the first half of my July. Now for the second
Damn, I am still giddy about Hannu Rajaniemi being a fan
of my game! :)
Well, that was quick!
Faced with the Perfect Shitstorm of player feedback,
boycotts and negative media attention, International
e-Sport Federation drew the startling conclusion that
their tournament rules might be asinine and changed
them. The new rules are the same as in chess
tournaments and having an all-female series will annoy
some but I'll live with it. It'll make it easier for women
to enter e-sports (as illustrated by a few scandals of
pro-gaming sexism and this whole debacle) and alleviates
problems in some asshole countries that can't fit men and
women into the same picture without their heads exploding.
In an ideal world we wouldn't need it but this world still
needs a bit of tinkering.
In short, this is what the IeSF rules ought to have said
from the beginning and my mole in SEUL assures me that
they are effective immediately also for Assembly. This
counts as "IeSF coming to their senses" as outlined in my
previous blog entry, so my boycott of Assembly is hereby
lifted. It lasted for less than 24 hours. Well done, media
and Internet, well done.
In hindsight, IeSF handled the PR crisis fairly well, if
you discount the fact that it should have never happened
in the first place. The prompt and decisive rule change
has nipped the thing in a bud and I don't think there will
be any more problems for them. The Assembly organizers
have a shakier track record on that and still insist on
having done nothing wrong. Sigh. This is not a
deal-breaker by any means and my boycott remains lifted.
However, I do agree with those who think that Assembly
should issue an apology for its role in this mess.
In short, many of the major e-sports tournaments at Assembly are male-only because of some asinine rules from IeSF (International e-Sports Federation). They have given an even more asinine explanation that this would somehow help them present e-sports as "serious sports". Maybe it would have in the 1930s or in the fucking Saudi-Arabia! Here in the Nordics that shit won't fly. Of course, the real tragedy for me is not that some organization is being an asshole. It is that the Assembly didn't give them the boot as soon as they learned about the rules. Big boot. Right between the cheeks. With enough momentum to make them clear the parking lot before they land.
I really like Assembly and have been waiting it eagerly since my first employer-sponsored visit there in 2004. But I simply can't condone them, or anyone, supporting asshattery of this magnitude. Unfortunately, my only avenue of protest is to call for a boycott of Assembly 2014 until they either force IeSF to come to their senses, kick them out of the event or come up with one hell of a conciliatory gesture. I do this with heavy heart but although I am a lazy self-centred slob, some things in life are non-negotiable. Hopefully IeSF won't be there next year. Hell, I hope IeSF won't be anywhere this time next year after that article in Forbes. If I were a sponsor, I'd run.
At least I can now get a bit of rest between Ropecon and Worldcon.
I am feeling cyberpunkish tonight, which in my case means
a mind trip to Terminal Complex, the artificial city at
the center of my long-drawn-out iOS game project HAX. The
game will feature a very small slice of the whole setting,
so the rest is mine to toy with. The setting for HAX was
my inspiration for the Blue Corps in Rovers and I
even ended up calling the corporate government of Earth
"Cartel" in both settings. However, they are not
immediately compatible. In HAX, cyberpunk and
transhumanity are much more strongly at the center of
In HAX, the Cartel forces its off-world pioneers undergo
various degrees of cyborgization, while related and
extrapolative technologies remain prohibited on Earth to
protect social order and safeguard corporate supremacy.
Transhumans on Earth are outlaws (apart from Cartel's own
licensed specialists; think of the Deus Ex: Human
Revolution bosses and corporate leaders and you get the
picture). However, the Cartel has been unable to enforce
its policies on the Free Sectors and it cannot control the
exchange of information and technology between the Free
Sectors and the Singularity.
Terminal Complex is a vast transhumanist ghetto and the
cornerstone of clandestine transhuman subcultures
everywhere. Even the corporations operate by different
rules around them, well aware that the genie cannot be put
back into the bottle. Medical advances due to bionics and
genetic engineering are impossible to ignore, while the
growing gap between legal and illegal technology has
resulted in a thriving black market for clandestine
implants, brainware, gene hacks, ghost morphs and things
yet to be named. Intercorporate rivalry over the best
black-tek innovations inflames politics all the way up to
the Cartel Board of Directors.
What very few people realize is that transhuman
technology is just the tip of the iceberg. This is an age
of great scientific progress, technological innovation and
political suppression. Those in the know talk of
"Q-World", where progress is being made on things like
teleportation, sub-atomic engineering, force field
manipulation and mind control. The corporate collective
sits on a growing pile of disruptive technologies,
suppressing the hell out of them because they are scared
shitless by their societal effect projections. When
something from the Q-World slips through the cracks of
secrecy and security and makes its way onto the streets,
it might just as well be magic for the N-World.
Now that we are on the subject of worlds, "N-World" is
the unaugmented physical reality. Very few people live or
experience it fully anymore; to do so usually requires an
extreme lifestyle choice that eschews high technology in
general and virtual information technology in particular.
Sometimes called the Normal World by corporates or
Meatspace by those involved in virtual technologies and
infomorphs, N-World is where the biological anchors of
everybody but pure infomorphs exist and must be
maintained. The declining relevance of N-World is a new
phenomenon. It has never happened before and nobody knows
where it might lead.
M-World is where most people consider themselves to be
in. It is a combination of the physical reality with heavy
virtual reality augmentations. Depending what feeds you
are subscribed to, it allows you to choose your memetic
reality to a large extent. While some people argue that
there can be only one truth and M-World claims of
alternate realities are just a spin, in practice the
information reality of an individual becomes his perceived
absolute reality and M-World allows corporations,
collectives and even ideologies to impose their chosen
inforeality on subscribed members.
To best describe the M-World experience to an early 21st
century reader, imagine your brain had all the properties
of a smart-phone and were running constant social media
and location-based services via your eyes, or "cognitive
perception sphere", automatically superimposing both
informative and recreational graphics on your perceived
reality. This includes ad banners, mood pieces, subliminal
messaging and so on. This is not transhumanist technology
but how the average person in the global corporate society
lives, works, socializes and plays. The CIN-implant
(Communication, Information and Numistics) is also your
proof of identity and passport in the corporate era.
Newbown (in-utero, surrogate or in-vitro) babies born to
any civilized societies receive one at birth. It can be
tinkered with, upgraded and hacked just like any piece of
smartware. Ghost Runners in HAX use it to upload their
minds into neuralnet processors to access ubiquitous
computer networks, or the Link, directly.
V-World or V-Space is a full-sensory virtual reality
experience with all the advantages and limitations in
entails. It may or may not involve information from the
N-world. For example, plugging your CIN into a sports
vehicle can transport you into a state where you are
floating above the road with all the controls and displays
arrayed around you. The cockpit is a V-Space, while the
road you'll be driving down is N- or M-World, since you
must be able to react to physical obstacles and unforeseen
events the simulation might not know how to handle. Pure
V-World experiences are frequently used in games,
entertainment and cybersex, or when dealing with abstract
or highly specialized systems where the absolute exclusion
of non-relevant items is an advantage. A virtual workplace
is a perfect example of this: instead of a shared
office-space, employees slip into the V-World prepared by
their employer from the comfort of their own homes.
However, while V-World experiences can involve all senses,
body language and pheromone communication remain absent or
The Link used to refer just to the omnipresent mess of
overlapping networks and datafeeds the M-World and V-World
draw upon. It also encompasses the deeper systems and
infrastructure that make the day-to-day functions of
Terminal Complex possible. Ghost runners changed the very
definition of Link. Uploads through neural network decks
made it possible for them to experience it directly,
intercepting data and even seizing temporary control of
it. In effect, this put them into position where they
could control the M- and V-World experiences of millions,
or manipulate the workings of Terminal Complex itself to
their advantage. Ghost Running is a very Gibsonian way to
hack. Watch Dogs might portray the exploits of a
very capable M- or V-World hacker, but a Ghost Runner
wouldn't be running around with a gun since his perceived
reality would be the system structure of whatever deep
infrastructure network he might be invading.
I've always detested the idea of cyberpunk adventurers
running around in a populated cityscape wielding big guns
like freelancing urban commandos. Big Guns do exist in
Terminal Complex but most security troopers and corporate
enforcers would shoot on sight at random civilians openly
carrying them. Instead, the cyberpunks in TC would have to
rely heavily on subdermal weapons, easily concealed guns
and high-tech melee weapons masked as everyday items. We
would finally get some use for those finger-tip weighed
monowhips that every CP2020 player skipped in favor of a
Compared to the modest Highway Wall watchtower, the tower to the north was a menacing sight. Big, tall and bristling with sensors, it was the south end of an elaborate defense chain that cut right across the heart of Toulouse. Originally, the entire Zone was supposed to have been surrounded like this but both political and financial capital had run out right about where the tower now stood. Going around the Void Bubble basically meant running towards the northern tower across an open space. On the other hand, there was a low building behind the anomaly, perhaps a local fire and rescue station. The big garage doors had been smashed open, as if the firemen had driven their trucks right through them.
- The Hollow Pilgrim
We don't need no stinking summer! The only thing the Sun
is good for is blinding me when I'm driving! Rain is the
real deals, clearing particles from the air and all. Hell,
barbequing outside only feeds the mosquitoes! Bring back
the cold that freezes the body! Bring the perpetual
darkness that freezes the soul! ...so, yeah, not much of a
Midsummer, is it? Although the last winter wasn't that
wintery either. For the record, it may end up being colder
on Midsummer's Day than it was on Christmas Eve. Maybe we
are being punished for the spring, which was one of the
warmest and nicest on record.
My business is slow and compared to the last year's boom,
it is downright lousy. My old projects are winding down
for the summer (actually, they would probably describe it
as winding up for the events in August and September ) and
all my major new prospects are start-ups that are
basically waiting for funding. Basically, there is nothing
guaranteed lined up for the fall and staring into this
void means the void is also staring into me. Even with
game industry's lousy record of job security, the most
difficult thing about being a freelancer is the
uncertainty and I am really feeling it this year. So,
wink, win, nudge, nudge and all that. I've actually toyed
with the idea of returning to salaried work, assuming
someone my age can still get a job in this economy. Right
now there are contractual obligations preventing me from
doing that but if the current state of affairs continues
into the fall it is a different story.
Meanwhile, I write. I have some hand problems and doctors
forbade biking but I'll be dead before I give up on
writing stuff. After a brief and unsuccessful stab at
youth fiction, I went full pulp on my Praedor novel Käärmeiden
Tanssi. The lead protagonist is still a preteen girl
(she'll age a year or so over the course of the story) but
the world around her will now be the Praedor setting with
no holds barred. The change of genre will also involve
some stylistic changes, which is probably for the better.
Did you know that Petri actually drew a spot of Praedor
youth fantasy for the ill-fated Jysäys -magazine
back in the day? I hope he gets to conclude that story
some day. I can't remember the name of his protagonist but
I do remember the name of her pet Nameless. She called it
Vola and it was a dog-like creature that showed gratitude
and affection after being rescued from a pit. If it learns
to recognize its name, it won't be a Nameless anymore,
right? That spark of self-awareness might unlock some
pretty interesting things.
My own story is still stuck in the intro phase, setting
the stage for events and people to come. This is not my
favorite part of the writing because it feels like I am
wading through mud when all I really want to do is press
pedal to the metal and go adventuring! However, the
over-arcing storyline needs to get started or else we
won't have an intact arc and I am writing cheap
entertainment, not standards-challenging avant-garde. By
the way, the publisher is still sitting on The Hollow
Pilgrim script. Looks like my own
test-readers-turned-editors will get their stuff together
before they do, so I might end up sending them another
script soonish. Ideally, the next script version would
incorporate the corrections from both their editors and
mine but we'll see.
Then, to the current RPG business.
Miska Fredman of Heimot-fame has launched a crowd-funding campaign for his upcoming Finnish-language children's RPG Astraterra and I really want everybody to fund the shit out of it. This is not the first child-friendly or "beginner's RPG" released in recent years but I really don't want to go into the issues with that. Here, read my review from last summer if you don't know what I mean. In any case, Astraterra is a very different beast. Rather than having been thrown together after a crowd-funding drive accidentally succeeded, this thing has been in the works for years and has been extensively playtested with children. The development blog has been a blast to read and I know for a fact that the author can crunch his numbers. I expect simple, yet competently developed rules that are a tried and tested fit for their target audience.
However, my interest in Astraterra
goes way beyond having just another excellent Finnish
roleplaying game. My RPGs are Old Skool with steep
learning curves and for all its merits, Myrskyn
Sankarit/Age of Tempest is yet another
pseudomedieval high-fantasy setting with Tolkienesque look
& feel (I also see it as an offshoot of the OSR craze
but apparently this is not a popular viewpoint). There is
nothing wrong with any of that but compared to them, Astraterra
is trying to do something unique, yet easily
approachable, mixing genres in a way that is both fresh to
adults and relatable to its target audience.
Personally, I think we are looking at the genesis of a
uniquely Finnish omnimedia franchise that would be a
perfect fit for videogames, animated adventures,
family-friendly adventure fiction and comic books,
clothing lines sold as AT explorer gear etc. Without
having actually seen the finished product, I think that Astraterra
and everything it encompasses is a brilliant idea that
should attract interest in circles way outside the Finnish
RPG scene. Even its name, based on Latin, is omninational
and thus applicable everywhere! How cool is that?
Knowingly or sub-consciously, Miska has been thinking big
when he thought this up. Real big. I want to see it happen
and I want him to get his socks blown off by his
Granted, even I don't believe Astraterra
could become as big a franchise as Angry Birds
(you can expect a review of AB:
Epic pretty soon, btw). But it has the
potential to become commercially, if not artistically, as
big as The Moomin. While you chew on that, go
support the crowd-funding drive. Roleplaying games
are a niche of a niche and this will just scratch the
surface of the underlying potential. However, as franchise
sourcebooks and style-guides go, a well-made RPG is hard
to beat. I should know. :)
Käärmeiden Tanssi (eng. The Dance of Serpents) is a Finnish-language novel I've been writing since concluding The Hollow Pilgrim. Although I am already 15 sheets (or 40000 characters) into it, it hasn't really taken off yet. On the other hand, what the hell am I expecting it to do? The Stalker novel only moved forward because I finally kicked it down the road and I doubt Käärmeiden Tanssi will write itself either. For some reason and even after all these books, I am still expecting "authorship" to be some kind of a divinely inspired trance that would just make books happen. That leaves me procrastinating and waiting for the angels of heaven to cast their spell.
It never happens, of course, so eventually the deadlines
of my publishing contracts force me to pull my head out of
my ass and do the bloody thing myself. With Käärmeiden
Tanssi I am trying to skip the waiting part and just
get on the with bloody thing, taking all the knocks it
Käärmeiden Tanssi is very different from my
previous Praedor novel, Vanha Koira. This
time the protagonist is Nijah, an adolescent girl of noble
birth who, after an arranged marriage turns murderous,
renounces her name and blood to become a thief and a spy
in the city-state of Galth (the birthplace of Ferron,
btw). First a servant and then a champion to Manos, a
former praedor (and a player-character from LootEm)
and now a powerful merchant, she becomes embroiled in a
conspiracy stretching all the way from the throne of Galth
to the distant ruins of Borvaria. Although some people are
going to think that I drew this idea from Game of
Thrones, I'd like to point out that Manos was a
midget already in 2001, way before it was cool, and I have
a license to use him from the original player. So, will Vanha
Koira make an appearance in Käärmeiden Tanssi?
We'll have to wait and see.
For the first time ever I am writing a novel without a
pre-existing publishing contract for it. I don't know yet
how I am going to publish it but self-publishing via
Burger Games is certainly an option.
By the way, the Finnish-language Stalker - Tieteisroolipeli is now also available as a PDF. So far I have sold just one. Woohoo!
is a shooter franchise where the protagonist, a
creatively named WW2 commando B.J.
Blazkowicz (no, I am not kidding) shoots Nazis
in the face. Well, Nazis and monsters created by Nazi
superscience. Wolfenstein games have paper-thin
plots, tongue-in-cheek themes and rely heavily on really
campy stereotypes. Wolfenstein 3D is generally
considered to be the granddaddy of all
first-person-shooters. Later releases have been remarkable
only in their mediocrity but really, what could you
possibly build on such a flimsy backstory and moronic
I am looking at an in-game cutscene and have tears in
my eyes. I listen to the conversations between civilians
and grind my teeth in genuine anger. I watch a cutscene
of two consenting adults having sex and all I can think
of is hoping they will eventually have a happy future
together. And I really hate the Nazis. I hate them so
much I want to bash their smug, arrogant post-victory
faces in with a brick! Watching the brutal stealth
takedowns, my only regret is that I can't hurt them more
when I kill them.
This is a Wolfenstein game!!
What the *fuck* just happened?!!
I am playing Wolfenstein: The New Order. So far,
I have no complaints whatsoever (apart from climbing down
ladders). I may like open-world games more as a genre but
WTNO is pretty much the perfect semi-linear first-person
shooter. On top of that, the atmosphere and drama Machinegames
have managed to squeeze out of this lemon of an
intellectual property is nothing short of a miracle. If I
hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I wouldn't have
believed it. I am currently heading towards the final
mission (I think). Even if the devs will have totally
screwed up the ending, I am still going to rate this game
+3. If the ending is on par with the rest of it, we are
looking at +4. If I am blown away by the ending, +5 is in
So, where to start? The linchpin of any FPS is obviously
action and combat. Fail at that and nothing else matters.
WTNO obviously excels in this. Blazkowicz moves fast,
turns quickly, doesn't get hung up on the
ambitious-looking level geometry and there are quite a few
things can be climbed over or broken to gain access to
somewhere. If I have to fault the gameplay for something,
the logic of climbing down ladders leaves something to be
desired. I usually end up just jumping down and taking the
resulting damage. This is the kind of game where you can
run in rings around the enemy, circle-strafing the shit
out of them.
To balance it out, enemies come in multiple tiers of
hardness and some of them are largely immune to small
caliber weapons. To again kick the shit out of that
balance, you can wield two pieces of almost any weapon and
a scene where I had pot-helmeted nazis charging at me from
a narrow tunnel and I was wielding two automatic shotguns
loaded with shrapnel ammo was borderline erotic. That
said, the game supports stealth to an unusual degree and
cutting some Nazi throats is cathartic.
Accomplishing feats of killing and stealth unlock bonus
features called "perks". They are like achievements except
they sometimes affect gameplay in a big way, like
unlocking secondary attack options for weapons. There is a
separate button for throwing grenades (a must have for all
dedicated shooters, believe me) and you can use all sorts
of stuff and lean around corners to take sneak peeks at
patrolling guards. I don't need any more feature
complexity from a straight-up shooter than that and WTNO
nails it beautifully.
Now, the one thing that makes almost any modern shooter
suck is regenerating health. Since we have already
established that WTNO does not suck, it must do things
differently. If you are hurt and you lose health, it will
regenerate to the next 10 over time. You can regain more
health by finding food and medpacks. You can also
overcharge your health, making it shoot past the max cap
and then steadily diminish back towards that cap. This is
a great way to tank up your health if you know you are
headed for trouble. You can also find certain collectibles
which will increase your health cap by 10. I started with
a cap of 100, right now my cap is 150.
Then there is armor, rated from 0 to 100. It works just
like in Doom, reducing incoming damage and being reduced
in the process. You can patch it up by finding stuff to
bolt onto it, ranging from pieces of robotic plate mail to
ballistic vests. Besides health packs and armor, you can
also collect gold, music recordings, enigma codes and so
on. I consider myself an explorer but I still haven't
found nearly everything. And the Enigma codes seem to be
used in a sort of a mini-game to unlock something. I'll
get back to you when I know what it does.
In this day and age of mediocre shooters, getting the
action mechanics just right is a major feat by itself. But
what really floors me are the story, the characters, the
atmosphere and the level design. To make the long story
short, the grizzled-white-male protagonist with a silly
name has actual depth in WTNO and being the stereotype
(hell, he is the very origin of that stereotype) almost
feels like a punchline to a joke that almost every other
action game developer out there has somehow missed. The
NPCs are deeper than I am really comfortable with (I have
real-life friends who are less three-dimensional) and I
have never seen a better love interest in a videogame. All
these people are adults living as outcasts in a dystopian
world and they behave as such.
The pacing is good, which by today's standards means it
is off the charts. The gameplay designers have perfectly
understood the need for peace and quiet every once in a
while. Occasionally, the haunted atmosphere in this game
rivals even that of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. trilogy and
this is a high praise from me. Levels are designed as
wide-pipes, meaning that there is a set beginning and an
end but multiple alternate routes and explorable nooks and
crannies in between. It reminds me of the original
F.E.A.R. or perhaps even Quake 2. This is a very good (and
sorely missed) thing and a giant leap forward (backwards?)
compared to modern shooters. I am glad that I have to
consult a map every once in a while and even when the
route is linear, it is usually well-designed enough not to
feel like it.
Finally, the narrative designer is a genius.You,
legendary BJ Blazkowicz, have failed. The Nazis won and
Blazkowicz regains his senses in a Polish asylum in 1960,
fifteen years later. He and a bunch of other relics of the
resistance are trying to rekindle the Second World War in
a dystopian future where the oppressed masses have more or
less accepted the status quo of Nazi fuckery. The future
world is based on the actual designs Hitler and Speer had
for the Greater Germania. It has been made into "scifi" or
"dieselpunk" by assuming that all the proposed
"Wünderwaffe" actually worked and extrapolating those
concepts into robotics, space travel and so on. Iron
Sky aficionados will feel right at home here. What I
found particularly fascinating was how the narrative
designer had done his homework regarding the ordinary
The whole world lives like Germans did in c.a. 1938.
Racial segregation is a fact of life, invalids and the
feeble-minded are purged from the society as degenerates,
people spy upon their neighbors and rat them out to the
civil office for suspected homosexuality and other
thought-crimes. On the other hand, there have been great
advances in technology and medicine. If you have the right
racial characteristics, your standard of living is quite
high and I can see why some parts of the population
support the system. You hear bits and pieces of
conversations and come across all sorts of documents and
collectible notes that convey a sense of a living,
breathing world that has already moved on. Stuck in his
personal war against the Nazis, Blazkowicz comes across as
something of a throwback, a Don Quijote charging headlong
at the windmills while the world at large might actually
prefer the uncomfortable peace to the horrors of war.
Well, I am glad that it did. Wolfenstein: The New
Order is a masterpiece. It also proves that when old
fogeys say that games used to be much better in their
youth, there might be more than nostalgia to this, at
least as far as First-Person-Shooters are concerned. WTNO
is Old School but it mops the floor with its New School
rivals. Besides, Nazis really make better enemies than
zombies. Zombies can't help being what they are but Nazis
have chosen to be assholes. And I've chosen to stab them
in the back of the head after drowning them in their own
The ending didn't disappoint me but it didn't blow me
away either. I've seen worse. Much, much worse.
By the way, the PDF file is DRM free. Anything a sane person would consider fair use is hereby allowed. Just remember that any sales royalties are split between myself and Petri Hiltunen. Both of us can use the money and your appreciation boosts our inspiration to cough up more Praedor stuff. I am writing a new Praedor-novel, Käärmeportti. And as soon as Petri releases the next Praedor graphic novel, the long-planned Praedor supplement will be back on the table.
Meanwhile, you might consider supporting Mike's quest to conquer the world by backing Age of Tempest at Indiegogo. He has set the bar at a quite reasonable 5K and this English-language version of Myrskyn Sankarit could be yours for just 25 euros. I did support the release of the Finnish version but have mixed feelings about doing a second round. Still, releasing a Finnish RPG internationally is a worthy goal, I suppose. I just wish the game was a bit better. You can check out my review of Myrskyn Sankarit here. As you can see it's a mixed bag. A lot to like and a lot to dislike. Hopefully Miska gets Astraterra out of the printers soon. His playtesting reports have been a joy to read.
My interest in videogames is slowly coming back. Now that I have warmed up with Sniper Elite II, I have to make a choice between the new Wolfenstein (said to be the best shooter in ages and frankly, despite common claims to the contrary, there are very few single-player focused FPS's out there) and Dishonored. The latter might prove a useful inspiration for my new Praedor novel but I kind of feel like kicking some Nazi ass right now.
Must be the current events.